Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Cairo just before 30 June: army in the streets and pressure on the media from the Muslim Brotherhood

Egyptian army tanks secure the perimeter of the presidential palace while protesters gather chanting
Tanks in the vicinity of the presidential palace. There are report that the Republican Guard is also blocking roads with concrete obstacles. 

The military began securing several places in and around Cairo on Tuesday ahead of expected mass protests on 30 June, a military official told Egyptian state news agency MENA. On of the first spots was Cairo's Media Production City (MPC), located in 6 October City, a satellite city on the outskirts of Cairo, and home to most private Egyptian television and radio stations. Armed vehicles and infantry will be used to secure the compound, the source said. On Wednesday army vehicles also appeared around the presidential place and at several places in the northern Heliopolis part of Cairo and the adjoining Nasr City. The opposition plans mass demonstrations on 30 June, departing from several areas in the city, demanding that president Morsi steps down. The Tamarud (rebel) campaign has been busy getting support for a petition demanding the Morsi leaves and claims to have gathered several million.signatures.
Meanwhile Al Ahram Online reported that Egyptian state television employees are gathering votes calling for the dismissal of presidential media representative Ahmed Abdel-Aziz. He is accused of having interfered with editorial policy. Amer El-Wakil, news editor at the Egyptian Radio and Television Union (Maspero), said on private-owned satellite television channel ONtv that Abdel-Aziz, who represents the presidency for media affairs, had demanded last Friday that coverage of upcoming protests should be restricted to pro-government rallies, while ignoring planned opposition protests against President Mohamed Morsi.

Earlier, state-owned daily Al-Akhbar's chief editor, Mohamed Hassan El-Banna, criticised the Muslim Brotherhood – from which Morsi hails – saying he had been contacted by one of the group's members who had condemned the paper's coverage. In an editorial on the front page of Al-Akhbar Mohamed Hassan Al-Banna wrote: "Some of them imagine that Al-Akhbar won't publish truths the way other papers do it... I reject any pressure from anyone, particularly members of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Some imagined that Al-Akhbar, as a newspaper falling under the auspices of the government ... will say 'Amen' to whatever the government says and conceal facts and information about the regime, deceiving its readers," he added
The Muslim Brotherhood and presidency are accused by Egypt's opposition of trying to wrest control of Egyptian state institutions in an attempt to impose single-party rule like its predecessor, ousted president Hosni Mubarak's National Democratic Party. Leading Brotherhood figures deny such attempts and accuse Mubarak's "deep state" – loyalists permeating the state apparatus – of working against the aims of Egypt's 25 January revolution.

Embedded image permalinkThe tanks not only returned to the streets of Cairo, also the first ones were spotted with graffiti demanding the downfall of president Morsi, just like it was the case with Mubarak two years ago. (Picturte taken from Twitter)   

Additional prison sentence for Bahraini human rights campaigner

Bahraini human rights defender Zainab Al-Khawaja was sentenced on 25 June to two additional months in jail on charges of assaulting two policewomen inside the prison. She is in detention in Hoora Detention Centre, wjhere she was serving three previous sentences for taking part in an illegal gathering, unlawful entry to Pearl Roundabout, and insulting a police officer. She was due to be released at the end of 2013, but the new sentence means she will remain in detention until February 2014.
Zainab Al-Khawaja who is also a blogger, has been active in calling for political reform and democracy in Bahrain. She has been campaigning since April 2011 for the release of her father, Mr Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, a prominent human rights defender and former Front Line Defenders Protection Coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa.
Zainab Al-Khawaja was charged with assaulting the policewomen inside the prison, after she tried to defend a fellow prisoner from the actions of the police officers. The court rejected the defence lawyer’s request to obtain CCTV footage from the prison authorities, which coudl have proven her innocence.

Monday, June 24, 2013

At least 17 Lebanese soldiers and 25 Salafist gunmen killed in fighting in Sidon

(Foto AFP).

Lebanese commandos seized Monday a complex belonging to Sheikh Ahmad Assir in the southern coastal city of Sidon, in the second day of clashes between the military and gunmen loyal to the militant preacher that have claimed the lives of at least 17 soldiers and more than 25 gunmen, the paper The Daily Star reported.
Army eavesdropping devices indicated that Assir was still in the vicinity of the complex, the sources said, adding that the fiery sheikh was heard as urging his gunmen not to surrender to the military and “fight to the death.” In overnight fighting, the Army had surrounded Assir and his some 250 gunmen barricaded in the Abra complex, 40 km south of Beirut.
Fighting erupted Sunday after armed supporters of Assir attacked a military checkpoint near the Abra complex, killing three soldiers and wounding several others.Pitched battles ensued as the Army, which vowed to respond with an iron fist to the "cold-blooded" attack, stormed Assir-held Abra.
At least 14 more soldiers were killed and more than 65 wounded. At least two civilians also died in the clashes, which brought Sidon to a standstill.
Ahmad Assir (Al-Akhbar)
Ahmad Assir is a 45-year old Salafist sheikh who has assembled a militia consisting of a hodgepodge of local Lebanese, Palestinian refugees, and Syrians. He had mobilized a considerable number of followers in the past year, mainly by means of his strong stand against Hezbollah and Shiism in general. The leftist paper Al-Akhbar writes that in building his resources the sheikh had had backing from official circles in Beirut, and from Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia.
Assir supposedly started the fighting in order to show how much his power had grown in the past year and to mark the start of bigger ventures. The fighting also activated Assir's followers in other places. Dozens of demonstrators gathered at Nour Square in the northern city of Tripoli, The Daily Star reported, raising black flags and shouting slogans in support of the radical sheikh. And in Beirut, Assir supporters burned tires in the neighborhood of Shatila.

Mob kills at last 4 Shias in Egypt

An angry mob of, as it seems, several thousand people has killed at least four Shiite Muslims in the village Zawiyyet Abu Musallam in the Egyptian Giza governorate, according to the head of the Giza security directorate. According to eyewitnesses, there were no less than 30 badly injured Shias who have been transferred to hospital. Also five houses were set on fire.
The death toll included 66-year-old Hassan Shehata, the most prominent Shia figure in Egypt, who was jailed twice under former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak for "contempt of religion." The lynching started when Shehata visited a Shia family in the village on the occasion of the night of the 15th of Shaaban, which is a night of prayer for Muslims and also the birthday of the last  Imam of the Twelver Shia Muslims. 
The police force came late according to eyewitnesses and did nothing to stop the attack and public lynching. "They were just watching the public lynching like anyone else and did not stop anything," said Hazem Barakat, a photojournalist and eyewitness. He said that Salafists had been stirring up the emotions against the Shias during the last three weeks.
Shi'as are a small minority in Egypte, although it has been the dominant religion in Egypte in the 11h and 12th centuries.w hen Egypt was governed by the Fatimid dynasty, which founded Cairo and built the Azhar mosque among other things.  

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Saudi police shoots men at Shi'íte eastern region

Saudi police shot a man dead on Saturday night in the Shi'ite Muslim district of Qatif, authorities said, in the second shooting incident in two days in the fractious area after months of relative calm.
The deaths bring to at least 20 the number of people shot dead by police since early 2011, when Shi'ites in the Eastern Province staged protests against the involvement of Saudi forces in ending demonstrations in neighboring Bahrain.
The government said Ibrahim al-Rebah, previously described as a wanted man connected with unrest in the area, was shot dead after exchanging fire with police when he resisted arrest late on Saturday.
Local police said another man, identified by activists as Ali al-Mahrous, was shot late on Friday in an exchange of fire with a suspect, but not found until Saturday morning.
Saudi Arabia last year ordered the arrest of 23 Shi'ite Muslims in the kingdom's Eastern Province, saying they were responsible for unrest that has led to shootings and protests.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Appointment of 17 new governors by Egyptian president Morsi met with severe criticism

Temple of Hatshepsut near Luxor. In 1997 62 people were killed here in an attack by the Gama'at al-Islamiyya.  The appointment of a leading member of this group as governor of Luxor raised many questions. (Photo Wikimedia)

The appointment on Sunday by President Mohamed Morsi of 17 new provincial governors, has been met with lots of criticism. Seven of the new governors are members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the group from which the president hails, including those appointed to the Nile Delta governorates of Gharbiya and Menoufiya. Many believe that Morsi while doing this had the possibility in mind of a mass uprising on 30 June, the anniversary of his coming to power. The opposition has called for demonstrations on that day and the Tamarod (rebel) campaign is going to present, as it says, 15 million signatures adhered to a demand that Morsi resign.
The appointment that drew most criticism, however, was the one whereby the 52-year old Adel El-Khayat was designated governor of Luxor. Al-Khayat is a leading member of the Gama'at al-Islamiyya, which Luxor in 1997 in which 58 foreign tourists and four Egyptians were killed.The group was also implicated in the 1981 assassination of president Anwar El-Sadat, after which El-Khayat was sentenced to one year in prison without a charge. In an ideological u-turn, the group renounced violence in the immediate wake of the Luxor attack. Following Egypt's 2011 popular uprising, which ended Hosni Mubarak's three-decade rule, the group established the Building and Development Party as its political arm.
Tourism industry insiders voiced surprise and concern over Morsi's decision to assign the ultra-conservative El-Khayat to the top post in Luxor, considered one of the world's largest open-air museums. On Monday, dozens of residents gathered outside the governor's office to protest the move. An official Luxor governorate source told Ahram Online on condition of anonymity that protesters had raised placards reading: "We don't want terrorists" and "The government has replaced an ambassador with a terrorist." Luxor’s outgoing governor, Ezzat Saad, had formerly served as Egypt’s ambassador to Russia.
However, Reuters reported on Sunday that Morsi's supporters had defended El-Khayat's appointment, pointing out that Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya had successfully curbed crime in Upper Egypt, where the group is well integrated into the local tribal system. "They are the most capable force for guarding security in the Upper Egyptian provinces," said Mostafa El-Gheinemy, a member of the Brotherhood's authoritative Guidance Bureau. He went on to call El-Khayat's appointment an "excellent choice. It is impossible to exclude one faction, even if its history is bad, as long as they have rid themselves of these ideas," El-Gheinemy told Reuters.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Moderate Hassan Rohani wins Iranian presidential elections by a large margin

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 Rohani amidst reporters and supporters after he voted on Friday.

Updated. The moderate cleric Hassan Rohani has won Saturday's presidential elections in Iran by a large margin. The Interior Ministry said Rohani took 50.7 percent of the more than 36 million votes cast, well ahead of number two, former mayor of Tehran Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf,  with about 16.5 percent. Jalili — who said he was "100 percent" against detente with Iran's foes — came in third with 11.3 percent, followed by conservative Mohsen Rezaei with 10.6 percent.
Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar said the turnout was 72.7 percent, suggesting that liberals and others abandoned a planned boycott as the election was transformed into a showdown across the Islamic Republic's political divide. Iran has more than 50 million eligible voters.
 In his first statement after the results were announced, Rohani said that "a new opportunity has been created ... for those who truly respect democracy, interaction and free dialogue."

Rohani received significant boosts earlier this week when reformist candidate, Mohammad Reza Aref, withdrew in his favor. His campaign was also endorsed by former presidents Mohammad Khatami and Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.
In contrast, Iran's big-hitting conservatives failed to organize themselves around a single candidate, suffering what appeared a decisive split in their support base as a result.
Voting was extended by several hours at polling stations across the country on Friday as millions of Iranians turned out to cast their ballot in the first presidential race since a disputed 2009 contest led to months of political unrest.
Rohani graduated from Tehran University with a law degree. He took master's degree in law at Glasgow's Caledonian University for a master's degree in legal affairs. He returned to Iran when the resistance to the shah grew, but had to flee to avoid arrest and then joined up with Khomeini, who was in exile in France, and the rest of his inner circle, including Rafsanjani. After the revolution, Rowhani rose quickly with various roles, including reorganizing the military, serving in the new parliament and overseeing the state broadcaster, which became a valued mouthpiece for Khomeini. He strengthened his ties to Rafsanjani during the 1980-88 war with Iraq and, later, as Rafsanjani's top national security adviser during his 1989-97 terms. Rowhani continued the role with reformist President Mohammad Khatami, who also appointed Rohani as the country's first nuclear envoy. Some weeks after Ahmadinejad came to power he quit this position.
Last week, during the campaign Rohani told a cheering crowd that he ''won't let the past eight years be continued," indicating that he want to break with Ahmadinejad's hard line postion vis à vis the West. "They brought sanctions for the country. Yet, they are proud of it. I'll pursue a policy of reconciliation and peace. We will also reconcile with the world."
 The influence of a president in Iran is marginal as key sectors like defense and foreign policy are kept in  hands of the supreme leader (Khamenei) and the ruling clergy. with the revolutionary guard as their protector. Rohani can play a big role, however, as far as the economy is concerrned.and he can also have an influnece on the general climate in the country by creating a freeer atmosphere.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Ethiopian parliament strips Egypt of its lion's share to water of the Nile

renaissance_dam_construction site 1_year_on

 (Reuters) - Ethiopia's parliament unanimously ratified on Thursday a treaty that strips Egypt of its right to the lion's share of the Nile river waters, raising the political temperature in a dispute between Cairo and Addis Ababa over the construction of a dam. The parliament's move follows days of irate exchanges between two of Africa's most populous nations over Ethiopia's new hydroelectric plant, which Egypt fears will reduce a water supply vital for its 84 million people.
Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi said on Monday he did not want "war" but would keep "all options open", prompting Ethiopia to say it was ready to defend its $4.7 billion Great Renaissance Dam near the border with Sudan.
Six Nile basin countries including Ethiopia have signed a deal effectively stripping Cairo of its veto, which is based in colonial-era treaties, over dam projects on the Nile, source of nearly all Egypt's water.
Ethiopia's late leader Meles Zenawi had delayed parliamentary ratification until Egypt elected a new government. "Most of the upstream countries have approved it through their parliaments. We delayed it as a gesture of goodwill to the people of Egypt until a formal elected government was in place," Ethiopian government spokesman Bereket Simon told Reuters. "We have a principled stance on the construction of dams. We are determined to see our projects brought to completion."

Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr is expected to travel to Addis Ababa on Sunday for talks about the dam, though Ethiopia's foreign ministry has said there can be no question of suspending construction. The African Union has urged both sides to hold talks to resolve the row.
Under a 1929 pact, Egypt is entitled to 55.5 billion cubic metres a year of the Nile's flow of around 84 billion cubic metres. But, along with other upstream neighbours such as Kenya and Sudan, Ethiopia argues that this pact is outdated. Ethiopia has also dismissed the talk of military action as "psychological warfare".
Officials in Addis Ababa say a technical analysis compiled by experts from Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt provides assurances to downstream nations that the dam being built by an Italian firm will not have a negative impact on the river's water levels.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Egyptian minister of Culture continues series of dismissals

 Egyptian intellectuals occupy the ministry of Culture for the fifth day out of protest against minister Alaa Abdel-Aziz. (Photo Ayman Hafez Ahram Online).

As artists occupy his office for a 5th day, the Egyptian minister of Culture, Alaa Abdel-Aziz, on Sunday continued his campaign of sacking senior officials of his ministry and replacing them by people who are sympathetic towards the Islamic trend. On Sunday it was the turn of  the head of the  National Archives, Abdel-Wahed El-Nabawe, as well as three other high placed officials of the ministry to be sent away.
El Nabawe was told he was sacked by his brand new boss, Khaled Fahmy, a professor of Arabic literature and a known Islamist, who himself was only appointed on 4 June by the minister as a replacement of the head of the Egyptian National Library and Archives (NLA). 
Also on Sunday the head of the Scientific Institutions, Mohammed Sabry El-Daly, the head of the Historical Headquarters, Iman Ezzeddine, and the head of the Quality Control of the ministry, Nevine Mahmoud, were sacked.  
The list of people dismissed by minister Abdel-Aziz is growing fast. Earlier the minister sacked Ines Abdel-Dayem, head of the Egyptian Opera House; Ahmed Mujahid, head of the Egyptian General Book Authority and Salah El-Meligy, head of the Fine Arts Sector. Egypt's intellectuals and artists are outraged by this series of dismissals, which are seen as proof that the minister, with his known affiliation to the Muslim Brotherhood,  is Islamizing the cultural sector. On Sunday a group of artists occupied the ministry for the fifth consecutive day. Earlier the Opera cancelled performances in protest, public demonstrations were held in front of the Opera and angry intellectuals blocked to ministry to impede the minister to go home. More actions are to follow. In the meantime also the head of the ministry's foreign relations sector, Professor Camillia Sobhy,  and the head of the Supreme Council for Culture (SCC), Said Tawfiq, resigned out of protest against the actions of the minister.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Egyptian artists and intellectuals continue protest against minister of Culture

Angry Egyptian artists trap culture minister in building for hours 
An earlier demonstration: On Sunday 2 June a group of artists trapped the minister inside his ministry. 

A group of artists and intellectuals invaded Egypt's Ministry of Culture in the Zamalek district in Cairo on Wednesday, declaring a sit-in inside the building until Minister Alaa Abdel-Aziz is replaced. The protesters included novelists Bahaa Taher and Son'allah Ibrahim, film director Khaled Yousef, and figures from the cinema industry, Galal El-Sharkawy, Fardos Abdel-Hamid, and Sameh El-Seriety.
CUlture Minister Alaa Abdel Aziz
Alaa Abdel-Aziz
It was not the first protest against Abdel Aziz. On 2 June, protesting artists surrounded the front and back exits of the ministry, keeping Abdel Aziz trapped inside until 7:30pm. The crisis in Egypt's cultural scene started on 28 May when the culture minister fired the heads of Cairo Opera House and Fine Arts Sector. Artists from Cairo  Opera House and Fine Arts Sector held protests outside the Opera House, which led to an on-stage protest at a performance of Aida and a three-day halt of performances. On 1 June, the Cairo Symphony Orchestra cancelled a concert with pianist Ramzi Yassa. The artists accuse the minister, whose ties to the Muslim Brotherhood are well known, of executing a Muslim Brotherhood agenda to Islamise Egyptian culture.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Assad's army recaptures strategic town of Qusayr

Qusayr on 23 May 2013 (AFP)

NGO staff and NGO's convicted in Egypt

A court in Cairo has sentenced 43 people to between one and five years in prison for working for unregistered NGOs in Egypt. Twenty-seven defendants, all of whom were tried in absentia, received five-year jail sentences. Eleven received one-year suspended sentences, and five received two-year sentences. The convicted people include 19 Americans, 16 Egyptians, as well as Germans, Serbs, Norwegians, Palestinians and Jordanians.
One of the defendants to receive a two-year sentence was Dar Al-Hilal publishing CEO Yehia Ghanem, who was a consultant for the International Centre for Journalists (ICFJ), one of the NGOs involved in the trial. He was also the managing editor of Al-Ahram International.
The court also ordered the closure of five foreign NGOs operating in Egypt and for their funds to be confiscated. These are the US-based Freedom House, the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute (NDI), the International Centre for Journalists (ICFJ), and Germany's Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAS). The accusations against the NGO staffers included managing unlicensed branches of the International Republican Institute (IRI) between March 2011 and 29 December 2011, conducting research, political training, surveys, and workshops without licences, and training political parties and groups and giving them media support to generate electoral votes.
 The heads of NGOs were also charged with illegally receiving foreign funds. The IRI was accused of receiving $22 million, the National Democratic Institute (NDI) $18 million, Freedom House $4.4 million, the International Centre for Journalists (ICFJ) $3 million, and Germany's Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAS) $1.6 million.
The convected NGO-staffers can appeal the verdict. Several of them, inluding most of the Americans, left the country already in March 2012. The conviction took place on the basis of a law, adopted in the Mubarak-era, on the activities of NGO's. A new law has recently been presented to the Shura Council, but that one is hardly an improvement, accordfing to insiders. The question of the NGO's threatens the relations of Egypt with several countries, particularly the US, especially as far as the foreign aid given to Egypt is concerned. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Egypt extremely worried about start of work at Ethiopian dam in the Blue Nile

The Nile in Egypt

The Egyptian presidency on Monday published a summary of a report issued over the weekend by a tripartite commission – including Egyptian, Sudanese and Ethiopian representatives – about the potential impact on downstream states of Ethiopia's controversial Renaissance Dam project.  The committee, which also comprised international experts, was formed in May 2012 to study the impact of the dam on Sudan and Egypt, which are downstream of Ethiopia.
 Ethiopia announced last week that it will begin diverting the course of the Blue Nile, one of the Nile River’s two major tributaries, as part of the project. The plans for the Renaissance Dam have been a source of concern for the Egyptian and Sudanese governments since some time, since the Blue Nile is the main source of water for both countries. The project, if completed, could negatively impact the volume of Nile water that will reach Egypt. Egypt will need an additional 21 billion cubic metres of water per year by 2050, on top of its current 55 billion cubic metres quota, to meet the water needs of a projected population of 150 million people, according to Egypt's National Planning Institute.
Ethiopia asserted that the project will not have an adverse impact on either Sudan or Egypt, but according to the summary of the tripartite report, most studies conducted by Ethiopia have been insufficient or out of date.
The summary said that Ethiopia had failed to conduct  studies on the dam's potential environmental and social impact on downstream countries. Also, according to the report and contrary to what Ethiopia claimed, the Renaissance Dam will affect the ability of Egypt's High Dam to generate electricity, especially during the Nile's high and medium flood seasons. It also highlights negative environmental and social impacts, including a negative impact on Ethiopia's own ecosystem and on Egyptian agriculture. The summary goes on to describe Ethiopian reports on the dam's ostensible advantages for Egypt as undependable, since they were not based on extensive studies of the dam's operational conditions or the Nile's hydrological system.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Egyptian Court: Shura council and Constitutional Assembly both unconstitutional

Shura Council
The Shura Council. (Photo Reuters). 

Egypt's High Constitutional Court has ruled unconstitutional a law governing elections for the Shura Council, the upper house of parliament, Al-Ahram Online reports. However, the Council would not be dissolved. According to Article 230 of the constitution the council is immune from dissolution until a lower house of Parliament is elected. The constitution also gives the upper house temporary authority to pass legislation after a similar court order caused the dissolution of Egypt's People's Assembly in June 2012
The court also ruled that the law regulating elections for the constitution-drafting Constituent Assembly was unconstitutional.
It remains uncertain how the ruling will affect the constitution and whether actions and decisions taken under it will be annulled. The Administrative Court will decide how to apply Sunday's court verdict and whether it will have any impact on the assembly and the constitution that was ratified by a national referendum in December 2012.
Sunday's rulings are the latest in a series of court orders challenging the legitimacy of the country's top political institutions.The Islamist-dominated People's Assembly (re-named the House of Representatives) was dissolved in June 2012 following a court order, two days before the presidential election runoff.
April 6 Youth Movement founder Ahmed Maher said Sunday's ruling was correct but comes eight months too late, which will negate its effect.Former MP Ziad El-Elemy of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party expressed similar sentiments."Slow justice is great injustice. The delay of the verdict makes it hard to implement. The Shura Council will remain in place until after elections for the House of the Representatives. And the Constituent Assembly is invalid but the constitution will remain because it was ratified by a national referendum,” El-Elemy said via Twitter.